Sunday, June 30, 2013

War on MERS: Deadly virus prompts global battle plans

June 30, 2013
by Eryn Brown


In a war room of sorts in a neatly appointed government building, U.S. officers dressed in crisp uniforms arranged themselves around a U-shaped table and kept their eyes trained on a giant screen. PowerPoint slides ticked through the latest movements of an enemy that recently emerged in Saudi Arabia - a mysterious virus that has killed more than half of the people known to have been infected.

Here at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, experts from the U.S. Public Health Service and their civilian counterparts have been meeting twice a week since the beginning of June to keep tabs on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus. MERS-CoV, as the pathogen is known, causes fevers, severe coughs and rapid as it attacks the lungs of victims.

Epidemiologists started noticing clusters of MERS cases in families and in hospitals, in people who had close contact with victims. That made researchers worry that the virus might evolve to spread more easily from person to person - a prerequisite for a pandemic.

The CDC response team is working with other countries and with medical facilities in the U.S. to make sure procedures are in place to combat MERS. Hospitals have received guidelines for assessing and isolating patients to keep the virus contained.
"If there are cases that come to the U.S., we want to be well-prepared to address them," said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden.

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